WHAT IS TRAUMA?
Trauma is what you experience when you were not able to integrate past events that you interpreted as overwhelming and life-threatening.
Your interpretation of the events will depend on your attachment history. Trauma is a part of life, and its impact shapes who you are today. A traumatic event can be a once-off experience or it can be lived through a long period of time. A car accident, divorce, the death of a loved one, an operation as a child, growing up with abusive or absent parents, or sexual assault are all examples of trauma.
For example, when your male or female partner makes a comment about you, you may immediately feel triggered and thoughts like "s/he doesn't love me" may come to mind. Feelings of rejection may also be present. Your instant reaction is to attack back with a criticism or similar. Before you know it, you are both triggered and your discussion has escalated into an argument, or even worse. But those thoughts or feelings may have more to do with not feeling loved by one of your parents or feeling rejected by them as a child. This is traumatic for a child. Your childhood trauma is playing out in your intimate relationships.
What Happens in Your Brain
When trauma happened, the areas of your brain that register events was off, so you don't remember what happened as a story, but as body or feeling memories, as irrational beliefs about yourself.
The brain has an area that archives memories (hippocampus). I call this area the Librarian. The Librarian allows you to remember your first kiss, the first time you rode a bike, or how you met your best friend. The Librarian archives the information given by the prefrontal cortex, which I call the Wise Adult. When you are facing a threat, the Wise Adult is inactive, as all the energy of the body is needed to escape the threat. You don't need to think about how to avoid being run over by a car, you need to jump in order to avoid it. Your energy needs to be in your legs to jump, so before the Wise Adult can think, you are already safe. As a result, the Librarian may never get information from the Wise Adult about how the car was coming towards you, what colour it was and how the event happened, and this memory is never archived the way we understand memory. When the Librarian archives the memories, we can recall them when we wish, and we know they are in the past. When the Librarian is not able to archive the memory because it didn't receive the information from the Wise Adult (as in the example), your brain has no way of knowing that this event is in the past. When you are triggered, the memory of the event will come unexpectedly in the form of anxiety, general body activation, or panic attacks.
Your Memory is Everywhere
You may not remember exactly what happened to you, but you remember in the form of feelings, sensations (shame, fear, a look, a smell), an expectation of danger or irrational beliefs ("I am not safe", "I am unlovable", "I need to keep a low profile").
These feelings, sensations or thoughts will be recalled when you are triggered by anything that may remotely remind you of your trauma. Your brain is trying to protect you from further harm because it doesn’t know that the trauma is over. The feelings belong to your past, but you will feel as if they are real now and you may give them an incorrect interpretation.
For example, if your parents punished you harshly when you did something wrong as a child, you may be very afraid of making a mistake for fear of the consequences. As a result, you may keep a low profile, only engaging in activities that you truly master to avoid making mistakes, while a part of you is longing to expand to other areas, but too afraid of doing so.
As you know yourself better, an opportunity arises to create a new life, with better relationships, self-esteem, increased self-confidence and a sense of purpose.
You cannot change your past, but if you can manage to calm down while recalling the adverse events, your brain will start changing. Your Wise Adult can witness the event as if it was happening now and pass on the information to the Librarian, saying that this experience needs to be archived as "past". This doesn't happen over night. You need to get to know yourself and your triggers to calm the activation in your body when needed. This is called self-regulation. When you will learn to self-regulate better, you will be able to be present while you have feeling memories or body memories, and give the message to the Librarian that they belong to the past. Below is the treatment you would need to follow in different stages.
There are many ways of treating trauma. Research with brain scans has challenged that our traditional view that talking about the past will help. This may not always be helpful. Sometimes it helps, but sometimes it can make things worse.
1. Learning about Trauma
During our sessions, you will understand better what is happening to you. Knowledge is empowering. As you realise that your behaviours, intrusive thoughts and overwhelming emotions make sense in the context of trauma, you can feel more empowered. I will share with you some facts about trauma that will help you understand these intense experiences. The better informed you are, the better you will be equipped to making steps into transforming your traumatic past into a fulfilling and rich future.
2. Gaining Self-Awareness
You cannot change your past, but you can change your current reactions to triggers from your past. During the sessions, you can become aware that a lot of your sensations, feelings, thoughts and impulses have a lot more to do with your past than your current reality. You will then understand that you have been triggered, and you can observe yourself and your reactions. You can become more and more aware of your triggers and feel more empowered to change how you react to them. By constantly observing your current reality and notice what comes from your past, you can increase your resilience and self-regulation abilities.
3. Emotional Self-Regulation
You can learn how to self-regulate. Your overwhelming emotions don't need to rule your life. Our therapy work will help you to notice and step into and out of an emotion with confidence. You can have less and less periods of feeling numb and hopeless. Your can also be able to calm down when facing stressful situations. You can learn that moving can be helpful, becoming more present, activating your nervous system if you feel empty. Or you can learn how to be more at ease, more present, and calm down your nervous system if you are too agitated. Both your presence and emotional self-regulation can give you a new sense of confidence and security. It will not happen overnight. It will take time and constant practise, but in time the potential is there for you to change your reality. As you practise these techniques and change, you may notice your life changing too.
4. Processing Trauma
This stage can be different depending on who you are and the type of trauma that you suffered. If you had a good enough childhood and experienced a car crash, for example, we can work on the debilitating sequels of the accident and you can move on with your life in a relatively short period of time. However, if you had a difficult childhood, it might take longer to process the impact of your traumas. Some people wish to talk about what happened to them. Others prefer to leave their past behind and never talk about it. Processing trauma does not necessarily mean that you need to talk about what happened. If you notice changes in your life and you no longer feel hijacked by your emotions or thoughts, you have processed your trauma. Usually, it would be something like an inner knowing that it did happen and it happened to you, but it is in the past, with no emotional charge attached to it.
5. Finding Meaning
Your last stage in your trauma therapy consists of moving on from your past and finding meaning in your life. As your past no longer hijacks your efforts to build a fruitful and joyful life, you may have a sense of what you wish your future life would look like. You may notice that you have the energy to go out there and create it.
HOW I WORK
My work is informed by evidence-based psychodynamic and attachment theories, neuroscience and trauma research, mindfulness, and some input from different body-oriented therapy approaches.
My knowledge of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is also useful to help balance your nervous system and/or process traumatic memories.
During our work together, there would be time for you to fully express yourself. I will explain to you in simple words how your nervous system and your brain works in relation to trauma, so that you can understand what is happening to your body. That normally creates reassurance and empowerment. You learn that what is happening to you is normal. You will be invited to pay attention to what is happening during your times of distress. Your commitment to have some reflective time outside the sessions may be necessary. As you are offered guidance and insight, you would reflect on your experience, becoming more aware of your normal patterns of response to triggers, and eventually learning how to change them without my help.
As an accredited member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP), I abide by its ethical framework, including maintaining confidentiality, working closely with a supervisor, and being actively involved in the profession through CPD and different roles in counselling associations.